German great Beckenbauer targeted in FIFA ethics probe
ZURICH (AP) As the number of World Cup voters publicly accused of wrongdoing reached 17, German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer and FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar are waiting to discover if they will be found guilty of obstructing the investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.
Five years after the 2018 tournament was awarded to Russia and the Middle East was given its first World Cup in Qatar in 2022, the shockwaves from the landmark dual decision by a much-discredited FIFA executive committee still reverberate throughout the soccer world.
Although the Russian and Qatari successes, along with the conduct of rival bids, have been tainted by five years of allegations, FIFA's ethics judge ruled last year there was not enough evidence to prove that the decisions were corrupt. But the contests remain subject to a criminal investigation in Switzerland where the attorney general is examining if there was financial wrongdoing, including money laundering.
Two members of FIFA's 24-man executive committee were suspended even before the 2010 vote after being caught in newspaper stings. Eight voters have since been banned or suspended from duty following ethics investigations.
Two voters, including acting FIFA President Issa Hayatou, were linked to bribes in a British parliamentary hearing, and three others have been implicated in investigations or media reports.
Hayatou has denied any wrongdoing.
Both Beckenbauer and Villar - now serving as FIFA's No. 2 official while President Sepp Blatter is suspended - have been investigated by ethics prosecutors and are awaiting verdicts in their cases.
The two men would face sanctions if found guilty of obstructing then-FIFA prosecutor Garcia's investigation, ethics committee spokesman Marc Tenbuecken told The Associated Press.
Beckenbauer and Villar have previously been identified by media as targets of the bidding investigation but were only publicly named Wednesday after FIFA's executive committee agreed to lift strict secrecy rules it imposed on the ethics committee in 2012.
The official disclosure inflicts more damage on FIFA, which is reeling from waves of corruption allegations that led the ethics committee two weeks ago to suspend Blatter and Michel Platini, who was previously the front-runner to succeed him running the world's most popular sport.
In a wide-ranging statement, the ethics committee said it aimed to judge Blatter and Platini, the UEFA leader, during their 90-day suspensions.
Blatter is also under criminal investigation by Swiss authorities for a suspected ''disloyal payment'' of around $2 million from FIFA funds in 2011 to Platini, who was also questioned. Both deny wrongdoing.
At the FIFA Congress in May, Blatter suggested that choosing Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts was the catalyst for investigators targeting the governing body.
''If two other countries had emerged from the envelope, I think we would not have these problems today,'' Blatter told delegates.
The Russian and Qatari wins - over losing bidders including England, Australia and the United States - provoked rifts among former allies and intense scrutiny of allegations of bribery, financial favors and rules-breaking voting pacts.
Under pressure to investigate the allegations seriously, FIFA appointed former U.S. Attorney Garcia in July 2012 as its ethics prosecutor. Garcia delivered his investigation report to Eckert in September 2014 only after finding trouble dealing with Beckenbauer and Villar.
Beckenbauer, who captained and coached World Cup-winning West Germany teams, twice refused to meet with Garcia and was barred from traveling to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by a provisional suspension. It was lifted during the tournament when he sent answers to Garcia.
Villar, a lawyer who chairs FIFA's legal committee, tried to have Garcia thrown off the case in March 2014 after the prosecutor came to Zurich to question FIFA officials.
The public naming of the Spanish football federation president adds to embarrassment for UEFA, where Villar is the highest ranking elected official after Platini was suspended by FIFA pending his ethics inquiry.
Villar did receive the backing Wednesday of fellow FIFA executive Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister, who said the Spain player turned federation head had the right not to speak to Garcia.
''He just doesn't want to give any testimony to anyone,'' Villar told Russia's TASS news agency. ''What issues can there be with Villar? He's devoted his whole life to football.''
Villar was second-in-command at Tuesday's FIFA meeting behind Hayatou, who felt compelled when assuming the presidency temporarily from Blatter two weeks ago to again deny allegations by a British Parliamentary committee that he took a seven-figure bribe to vote for Qatar.
Before the 2010 vote, the FIFA's ethics committee under different leadership dismissed claims that Villar and Qatari official Mohamed bin Hammam were involved in a vote-trading pact that broke election rules.
Also, a new case was announced Wednesday against a FIFA executive committee member who was barred from the 2018-2022 vote for seeking bribes. Amos Adamu of Nigeria served a three-year ban for seeking almost $1 million from undercover reporters posing as lobbyists. Details of the latest case against Adamu were not given.
The statement also confirmed ongoing probes of three officials - ousted FIFA vice presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, and former executive committee member Nicolas Leoz - who were indicted for bribery by American authorities in May.
Longtime Brazilian football leader Ricardo Teixeira is also under investigation, the ethics committee confirmed. Teixeira resigned from FIFA's executive committee in 2012 to avoid sanctions in a multi-million dollar World Cup kickbacks case, which also implicated his former father-in-law Joao Havelange, who was FIFA president from 1974-98.
Further cases seem sure to follow for embattled FIFA, whose 209 member federations will elect a new president in February in an emergency election triggered by Blatter's resignation.
The FIFA ethics panel said it is working confidentially on ''a moderate number of preliminary investigations against a number of football officials.''
In a separate case, suspended FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke is accused of misuse of expenses among other unspecified ethics rule breaches.
Dunbar reported from Geneva